Hilario Durán-Contumbao.

Label: Alma Records.

Nowadays, sixty-four year old Hilario Durán is regarded as one of the greatest Cuban pianists of the ‘20th’ Century. His career began in 1973, and twenty-five years later, in 1998,  he left Cuba behind and  emigrated to Toronto in Canada, which has been his adopted home for the past two decades. However, when  Hilario Durán collaborated with some top Cuban musicians on  his recently released album Contumbao, he returned home to Cuba. That was where he recorded the twelve tracks that became Contumbao, which was released by Alma Records. It’s another chapter in the story of composer, arranger and jazz pianist Hilario Durán.

The Hilario Durán story began in Havana, Cuba, in 1953, when he was born into a musical family. Every day of his young life, Hilario Durán could hear an eclectic selection of music playing in the area where his family lived. Hilario Durán was drawn to the music of Errol Garner, Roy Eldridge, Harry James, Jachaturian, Tchaikovsky, Gershwin, Ernesto Lecuona, Bola de Nieve, Vicentico Valdés and Adolfo Guzman. Having listened to the music, Hilario Durán tried to imitate and replicate the music he had heard. His parents who watched this unfold, decided to arrange private lessons with some of Cuba’s top music teachers. 

It wasn’t long before Hilario Durán’s family realised that he was a prodigious talent. In 1968, fifteen year old Hilario Durán started studying piano part-time at the Amadeo Roldan Conservatory of Music, and taking private piano lessons with Andrea Mesa, a highly respected Havana based piano teacher. By 1969, Hilario Durán moved from being a part-time student, to a full-time student, and was taught by Professor Oscar Lorie. He ensured Hilario Durán received the best musical education possible.

This continued when Hilario Durán arrived home, and spent much of his free time listening to music. By then, Hilario Durán’s favourite type of music was jazz, and he immersed himself in American and European jazz. This was already influencing Hilario Durán, and it seemed almost inevitable that Hilario Durán would eventually embark upon a musical career. However, before that his country came calling.

Seventeen year-old Hilario Durán began his military service, which many young Cubans dreaded. However, Hilario Durán spent much of his time playing clarinet with the military band Estado Mayor del Ejercito, where he played alongside musicians of the calibre of Jorge Reyes, ElpiIdio Chapotin, Carlos del Puerto and Ignacio Berroa, plus musical director Remberto Egües. They played alongside Hilario Durán for the next three years, and in 1973, he completed his military service. Now he could embark upon a career as a professional musician.   

Hilario Durán’s career as a professional musician began when the twenty year old joined Los Papa Cun­-Cun Ensemble in 1973. He was replacing one of the great Cuban pianists, Freddy Gonzalez de la Maza. This wasn’t going to be easy, but Hilario Durán was soon blossoming under the guidance of musical director  Evaristo Aparicio. However, after a few years, Hilario Durán left Los Papa Cun­-Cun Ensemble.

Another great pianist, Chucho Valdés, was leaving the Orquesta Cubana de Música Moderna, and asked that Hilario Durán replace him.  By then, Hilario Durán was regarded as one of the rising stars of the Cuban music scene. This was too good an opportunity to decline, and Hilario Durán joined the Orquesta Cubana de Música Moderna.

With Hilario Durán’s star was in the ascendancy, he decided to release his debut solo album Habana 9 P.M. in 1976. However, it was over twenty years before Hilario Durán released the followup.

Over the next few years, Hilario Durán worked as a pianist and arranger, and was involved in a variety of different projects. His versatility meant he was able to work with artists that included Omara Portuondo, Miriam Ramos, Amaury Perez Vidal, Donato Poveda, Silvio Rodriguez, and Beatriz Marquez. Other times, Hilario Durán worked as an arranged with German Piferrer and Demetrio Muñiz. However, as the seventies gave way to the eighties, Hilario Durán received an offer he couldn’t turn down.

In 1981, Arturo Sandoval who was one of the great Cuban trumpet players, invited Hilario Durán to join his band. Hilario Durán became Arturo Sandoval’s arranger, musical director and played piano and keyboards. This was how Hilario Durán spent the next nine years.

By 1982, Arturo Sandoval’s new arranger became an award-winning arranger, when he won the Premio EGREM for Best Arranger of the Year 1982-83, which is one of Cuba’s most prestigious music prizes. For Hilario Durán, this was a huge honour far the thirty year old pianist.

Over the next nine-year, Hilario Durán had toured the world several times with Arturo Sandoval, and shared a stage with Michel Legrand and legendary jazz trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie. This resulted in Hilario Durán playing on Dizzy Gillespie Y Gonzalo Rubalcaba album Gillespie En Vivo, which was released in 1985. Hilario Durán had come a long way since making his professional debut in 1973.

For the next five years, Hilario Durán continued to work as Arturo Sandoval’s arranger and musical direction, and played piano and keyboards. This all changed in 1990, when Arturo Sandoval left Cuba to start a new life in the United States. However, he left his band behind in Cuba.

Fortunately, Hilario Durán stepped in to the void and started moulding the remaining band members into a new band, who would head in a different direction from before. This new band he called Grupo Perspectiva, who over the next few years toured Europe and South America, and released two albums, Tiembla Tierra and Buscando Cuerdas in 1994. Despite spending much of his time leading Grupo Perspectiva, Hilario Durán found time to work on other projects.

One of these collaborations came about when Hilario Durán was approached by Chucho Valdés, who was then the bandleader of Irakere. They were one of Cuba’s most influential bands, and Chucho Valdés wanted Hilario Durán to take charge of the arrangements for Irakere’s recording Indestructible. This was all good experience for Hilario Durán.

So was working with Canadian flautist Jane Bunnett. She had invited Hilario Durán to play on her 1992 album Spirits Of Havana. Later in 1992, Spirits Of Havana won a Canadian Juno Award. This resulted in Jane Bunnett inviting Hilario Durán to Toronto to perform with The Spirits Of Havana group. Then when Jane Bunnett recorded her Rendezvous Brazil Cuba in 1994, Hilario Durán was invited to play on the album. 

During some downtime, during the recording of the Jane Bunnett’s Rendezvous Brazil Cuba in 1994, Hilario Durán met Canadian bassist Roberto Occhipinti. The pair played a few gigs together, and would later be reunited. Before that, Hilario Durán was offered a new role.

Not long after this, Hilario Durán became Jane Bunnett’s arranger, musical director and pianist, and they spent three years touring North America and Europe. When three years of touring was over, it was time for Hilario Durán to take centre-stage.

Twenty years after releasing his debut album, Hilario Durán released his sophomore album Francisco’s Song in 1996, on the Justin Time label. Joining Hilario Durán was Francisco’s Song flautist Jane Bunnett who produced the album with her husband Larry Cramer a Canadian trumpeter. The pair also produced the followup, Killer Tumbao which was released in 1997. However, by the time Hilario Durán released the third album in the Justin Time trilogy, he had made one of the biggest decisions of his life.

The following year, 1998, Hilario Durán decided that his wife Cristobalina and daughter Yailen would leave Cuba behind, and make a new life in Toronto. This was a huge decision, but one that paid off. 

Soon, Hilario Durán was a familiar face in Toronto’s vibrant music scene, and was working not just in Canada, but across the border in America and touring the world. Still, he found time to complete the Justin Time trilogy when he released Habana Nocturna in 1999. This was the first album Hilario Durán had released since moving to Toronto. His recording career would continue in the new millennia.

This included Hilario Durán’s fifth solo album Havana Remembered, which was released in 2002. Later, that year, it was nominated in Canada for the Best Global Album released during 2002. Hilario Durán was also a member of the World Festival Orchestra when they played at the New Jersey Performing Arts Centre in October 2002. That night, they played Hilario Durán’s latest composition Suite Afro-Cubana. For Hilario Durán this was a huge honour.

Two years later, Hilario Durán signed to the Canadian jazz label Alma Records in 2004. Hilario Durán had been introduced to Alma Records by his friend and bassist Roberto Occhipinti who he had met ten years previously in 1994. Roberto Occhipinti knew Alma Records president Peter Cardinali, and introduced him to Hilario Durán. This was the start of a long and fruitful relationship between Hilario Durán and Alma Records.

For his Alma Records’ debut, Hilario Durán went into the studio with drummer Horacio “El Negro” Hernandez and bassist Roberto Occhipinti who produced New Danzon. It was released in 2005, and later that year, won the Canadian Juno Award For 2005. 

By the time Hilario Durán won his first Canadian Juno Award, he had returned to Cuba to record an album at EGREM studios in Havana with producer Roberto Occhipinti, where they were joined by some of the former members of Perspectiva. They received equal billing, on Encuentro en La Habana, which marked the return of Hilario Durán and Perspectiva in 2005. The album reminder of how the group played with passion, spontaneity and an inventiveness. It was no surprise when Encuentro en La Habana was nominated for a Canadian Juno Award in 2006. However, in 2007 Hilario Durán founded a new band.

This came about after Hilario Durán told Roberto Occhipinti how since he was a child, he had dreamt of founding a Latin Jazz Big Band. Roberto Occhipinti encouraged Hilario Durán to found the band, and Hilario Durán and His Latin Jazz Big Band was born. It featured some of finest Latin and Cuban musicians, who played at various festivals across Canada. Hilario Durán and His Latin Jazz Big Band proved a popular draw, and in won the  Latin Jazz Award of the Year 2006 at the Canadian National Jazz Awards. By then, Hilario Durán and His Latin Jazz Big Band had decided to record an album.

Hilario Durán and His Latin Jazz Big Band’s debut album From The Heart was produced by Roberto Occhipinti and released by Alma Records in 2007. From The Heart went on to win the Canadian Juno Award For Best Contemporary Jazz Album of 2007 and  received a Grammy Nomination for Best Solo Performance on the Hilario Durán composition, Paq Man. For the second year consecutive year, Hilario Durán and His Latin Jazz Big Band won the  Latin Jazz Award of the Year 2007 at the Canadian National Jazz Awards. That wasn’t the end of the awards, and later in 2007, Hilario Durán travelled to Miami where he received the Chico O’Farrill lifetime achievement award for his outstanding contributions to Afro-Cuban jazz and Latin Jazz. This was the third award Hilario Durán had won during 2007, which was one of the mast successful years of his thirty-four year career.

After the success of Hilario Durán and His Latin Jazz Big Band, its founder embarked on a variety of new projects, including  The Hilario Durán Trio and  Hilario Durán and Orquesta Havana Remembered. This Hilario Durán combined with his various academic commitments.

While Hilario Durán combined his musical projects and academic work, he received another honour when he returned home to Havana. Hilario Durán won the award for the World Group Artist of the Year 2008. Hilario Durán as Special Guest of Odessa/Havana. It was just the latest award he had won since moving to Toronto.

Three years passed before Hilario Durán released his next album. This was Motion, which was released in 2010, on Alma Records. following year Hilario Durán and Jane Bunnett released their collaboration Cuban Rhapsody in 2011.  Another two years passed before Hilario Durán released Christmas Salsa in 2013. Around the  time of the album’s release, Hilario Durán was crowned Musician of the Year by the Toronto Musicians Association. This was just the latest award he had won since arriving in Toronto fifteen years earlier.

Since 2013, Hilario Durán hasn’t released another album. However, that changed in June 2016, when Hilario Durán returned to at EGREM studios in Havana to record his recently released album Contumbao. 

The album’s title Tumbao is term that came from Africa and the Caribbean, and means “an indescribable African sexiness or swing.” Tumbao rhythm is part and parcel of Afro-Cuban music. For some, it’s an attitude, and an attitude that not all musicians are blessed with. However, the quartet of hugely talented Cuban musicians were capable of providing the Tumbao on Contumbao. That’s no surprise, as they’re all experienced, talented and versatile musicians who are familiar faces in the Toronto music scene. 

Joining Hilario Durán in the rhythm section are legendary drummer Horacio “El Negro” Hernández and bassist Roberto Riverón who has twenty-five years experience behind him. The final member of the band was percussionist Jorge Luis Torres “Papiosco” who the late Tata Güines named The Child Prodigy. When it came to record Duo Influenciad, Cuban piano great Chucho Valdes joined Hilario Durán on what’s a meeting of musical minds.

After ten days the twelve tracks that became Contumbao were completed. Hilario Durán’s hand-picked quartet had reached new heights and had the ability and versatility to play a variety of African and Cuban styles. The result was a compelling and captivating album of Afro-Cuban Jazz with elements of Bembé 6X8, Güajira and Son Montuno that was enriched with that unique Tumbao. This typical Cuban ostinato melody can be found in most genres of Cuban music, and features throughout Contumbao.

Hilario Durán’s first new album in four years features eleven new compositions. There’s also a cover of the upbeat rumba El Tahonero, that’s a favourite of Hilario Durán. “I heard this song when I was in Cuba a few years ago and fell in love with it.” No wonder, as  El Tahonero and Rumba de Cajon are both irresistible, spirited and sonorous rumbas that were part of Hilario Durán’s of musical concept.

“My musical concept with this album was to try to reach a wider audience. It is an album that can get people dancing, while those who like sophisticated music can enjoy it too.” Hilario Durán certainly succeeds in doing so on Contumbao. Throughout Contumbao, the tempo, tone and mood continues to change, on what’s also a personal album.

Proof of that is Parque 527 a quite beautiful, autobiographical song where Hilario Durán explains: “this is the address of the house in Havana I spent much of my life in. I grew up there and lived with my wife there, so there was a lot of joy in that house. It is like the story of my life in that song.”

Among the highlights of the album is the title-track Contumbao, which bursts into life, as a glorious full-on Latin jazz track unfolds. It’s another irresistible track from the truly talented quartet, and sets the bar high for the rest of album. Very different is Recuerdos a gorgeous piano ballad, where Navarette’s quivering vocal is accompanied by the quartet, including Hilario Durán’s piano playing. Hilario Durán’s piano plays an important role in the sound and success of the piano led Afro-Cuban Guajira. It’s a similar case on Los Muñeco where pianist Hilario Durán delivers a musical masterclass. This encourages the rest of the band to raise their game to even greater heights. Closing Contumbao is Danzon Farewell where Hilario Durán’s quartet combine to create what’s one of the most beautiful tracks on the album. It also showcases this all-star Cuban band’s combined skill on Contumbao a truly captivating album.

After twelve tracks almost flawless tracks Contumbao, the latest album from Hilario Durán is at an end. It’s his first album in four years, and is a welcome return to form from Hilario Durán, who nowadays, is regarded as one of the greatest Cuban pianists of the ‘20th’ Century. 

Hilario Durán’s career has lasted forty-four years and five decades, and still the sixty-four year old hasn’t lost any of is appetite for music. Contumbao which features twelve tracks, is the best album that Hilario Durán has released in a decade, and features eleven new compositions. It’s also an album that showcases his talent and versatility as he switches between the tempo, tone, mood and genre. This Hilario Durán does seamlessly on album that he hopes will introduce his music to a much wider audience. 

Hopefully, Contumbao is the album that introduces Hilario Durán to a new and wider audience. With its mixture of Afro-Cuban and Latin jazz, Contumbao is a captivating album of irresistible, joyous and upbeat music, while other tracks are beautiful, dreamy and ruminative. Contumbao which is the latest album from legendary Cuban pianist Hilario Durán, where he expresses his creativity and creates music for head and the heart, and others that are akin to a joyous and irresistible call to dance.

Hilario Durán-Contumbao.

1 Comment


    1. Contumbao receives JUNO Awards nomination in the Jazz Album: Solo category - Hilario Durán

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